4 March 2021

On the Wire above the Ruins

Funambulism in postwar Germany

Yuliya Komska

A dab of lipstick. Blondish victory rolls, deflated from exertion and wind and the gravity of defeat—the wartime German colloquialism describing the hairstyle, Entwarnungsfrisur, or “all-clear hair,” might be more apt here. Her clothes, by contrast, are flawless. A short-sleeved shirt, prim and neat, is tucked into dark hotpants. Over that, a gauzy white pinafore billows in the wind, baring the long, strong legs. A token pinup riff on the naughty schoolgirl look. Or, in the eye of lyrical upskirter Max Frisch, “a Degas seen from below.” ...

18 February 2021

A Boy with a Knife

On remorse, forgiveness, and a near-murder in the West Bank

David Shulman

I know something about remorse; less about forgiveness. I have a story to tell in which both of these figure.

It begins with an olive harvest in October 2015 in the village of 'Awarta, southeast of Nablus, close to the infamous Hawara Junction and to the village of Yanun. There are grave sites in 'Awarta considered sacred by Muslims, Jews, and Samaritans, though the names of their occupants vary; one shrine is linked to Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron the Priest, and another, to the west of the village, to Ezra the Scribe ('Uzair). ...

11 February 2021

Trading in Atoms for Bits

The long history of digital currencies

Finn Brunton

All forms of exchange necessarily depend on differences in voltage.
—Fernand Braudel

The history of digital cash consists of scientific discoveries from the 1970s, hardware from the 1980s, and networks from the 1990s, shaped by theories from the previous three centuries and beliefs about the next ten thousand years. It speaks ancient ideas with a modern twang, as we might when we say “quid pro quo” or “shibboleth”: the sovereign right to issue money, the debasement of coinage, the symbolic stamp that transfers the rights to value from me to thee. ...

3 February 2021

Democracy Is a Long Shot

What does a legitimate election look like?

Ryan S. Jeffery

In her 2006 feature film My Country, My Country, Laura Poitras documents the immense amount of work that goes into the appearance of an election’s legitimacy. The election in question was for the Iraqi parliament in 2005, the first since the US occupation in 2003. For the US military planners and UN officials, legitimacy was paramount. And yet, regardless of context, the project of self-rule—or, rather, its appearance—never ceases to face this challenge. “This is what democracy looks like” becomes “This is what legitimacy looks like.” ...

14 January 2021

Wherever We Are Gathered

The Black Arts School and its afterlives

Joshua Bennett

One of the more difficult parts of raising a Black child in the United States of America—and it bears mentioning from the beginning that the joys are innumerable—is the question of where they will go to school. Most of us know, through both memory and a wealth of empirical data testifying to this difficult truth, that the classroom is a battleground. It is a site of suffering. It is, in the first instance, a space wherein our hair, our diction, our social practices and modes of cognition are denigrated as a matter of institutional mission and everyday protocol. ...

5 January 2021

Myth Lessons

The carceral state and the limits of sentimental realism

Matthew Spellberg

The Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994, is widely considered to be the capstone in the architecture of American mass incarceration. Among its many harsh provisions was a measure forbidding prisoners from receiving Pell Grants, the most important form of debt-free aid the government offers for higher education. Until 1994, there had been hundreds of college programs operating in the nation’s prisons. ...

15 December 2020

Abolitionist Alternatives

Black radicalism and the refusal of reform

Che Gossett

The political contours of the early modern Black abolitionist movement were shaped by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Tubman, and countless others in their everyday forms of resistance, and politically enunciated in the flashpoints of rebellions, uprisings, and insurgency against the violence of racial slavery. Abolitionist solidarity in the early period fractured along the fault lines of the political antagonism of anti-blackness. This chasm between abolitionist camps was the result of an incommensurable parallax. ...

8 December 2020

No Man’s Land

The architecture of abolition

Elleza Kelley

These days I get anxious in the cemetery when I see people having picnics and doing yoga, though I wonder if the dead don’t mind. I think maybe the dead are grateful for the children feeding ducks in the pond, climbing over their headstones, playing on the mausoleum benches without fear. Happy to be seen not as toxic or terrifying but as present, gentle, loved. I don’t know. ...

29 October 2020

Hidden Enemies

An American history of taqiyya

Joshua Craze

The first time someone told me they knew my real identity, I was—naturally enough—in Florida. It was 2009, and a colleague and I were doing research for a piece on counterterrorism training for American law enforcement. We had attended a class in Broward County, where the trainer had gleefully joked about Muhammed’s pedophilia with Transport Security Administration officials, who then enthused that they were now ready to spot the terrorists threatening Miami International Airport. ...

13 October 2020

Unpaid Debt

The Freedman’s Bank and the abandonment of Black America

Yong Kwon

No people can well rise to a high degree of mental or even moral excellence without wealth. A people uniformly poor and compelled to struggle for barely a physical existence will be dependent and despised by their neighbors, and will finally despise themselves.
—Frederick Douglass

On May 29th, the fourth day of nationwide protests against racialized police brutality, protesters in Washington, DC sprayed graffiti on the walls of the Treasury Department annex on Lafayette Square called the Freedman’s Bank Building. ...